Turkey between soured relations toward a common government with Tehran!
Turkey’s relations with Tehran have cooled in recent years, seemingly as a result of Turkey’s stance towards developments in Syria, but also because of Iran’s support of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). At the same time, Turkey has broken off relations with Israel.
However, at the end of last week, Receb Tayyip Erdoğan visited Tehran and met with high-ranking officials including the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Republic, Ayatollah Khamnayi, and the newlyelected president, Hassan Rohani. According to the media, the meetings proved to be positive.
During his visit, Erdoğan sought to achieve the best possible relations with his conflicted neighbor, which is also his Islamic friend, since both are committed to a Muslim state, although their methods, manners, cultures and doctrines may differ. This is the obvious side of Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran. The less apparent side may relate to other issues including the future of Syria and Geneva2, the Kurdistan Region and oil pipelines, the future roles of the PKK and the Kurds in Western Kurdistan a part of which is related to Iran’s role in supporting and provoking the Kurdish party who consequently has common enemy with Syria, Iran and Qandil, adding to Iraq’s issue and Maliki’s government ).
Erdoğan has told Khamnayi he felt very much at home in Iran; he even tabled the normalizing of their relations to a level resembling a common government. He has also expressed the hope that they can foster and maintain their relationship and thereby present the world and the region with a clear ideal of Muslim statehood. In turn, Hassan Rohani has expressed a wish for Ankara and Tehran to cooperate in eradicating terrorists. Rohani is expected to pay a return visit to Ankara in the near future, when developing the cooperation council between the two countries will be on the agenda. During the visit, three memoranda of understanding were signed relating to borders; developing relations between the Arna and Anadol news agencies; and developing cultural relations between the two nations and their film industries.
As mentioned, internal developments in Syria and common cooperation against terror have been discussed behind closed doors. Some sources have indicated that Kurdistan’s oil was one of the topics discussed. Both Tehran and Erdoğan seems to want to improve their political and military cooperation against terror and radical Islamic groups in Syria, and their statements to the media mention brotherhood and a joint anti-terror plan. Ankara also seeks to develop economic and trading relations.
Which is why a Turkish TV channel revealed that Erdoğan had visited Iran to develop relations in commerce and energy, and in so doing took a step closer to resolving the Syria-related disputes and taking advantage of Tehran’s diplomatic openness in the region and the West.
At the same time, Turkey seems to want to move beyond the framework of its strategic relations with the US. If we go back a little in time to the liberation of Iraq, Erdoğan’s government did not allow the US army and its allies to launch strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime from Turkish soil, what made the process problematic. What’s more, Turkey’s relations with Israel, a former strategic ally, have deteriorated, while Turkey recently made a move towards developing its relations with China, which must be a cause of concern for America. Regarding its openness towards Iran, America believes it is still early days. Before his visit to Tehran, Erdoğan met with US finance minister, David Cohen, who told Erdoğan that it is still early days for openness toward Iran, and that more cooperation with Iran is not a good idea. This may has made Turkey believe that Obama is also think about normalizing relations between Washington and Tehran, which is why he may have decided to get in there first and not become marginalized after US-Iranian bilateral relations return to a normal footing. Moreover, since Rohani took office, Iran has been moving fast towards an opening with the West, although it may have retained the same inflexibility with regard to the Syrian issue. That is why Ankara may also be thinking about Syria as it seeks to develop its economic and trading relations with Tehran. Given that Iran may well soon be cooperating with Turkey in the elimination of radical Islamic groups, Tehran and Syria may also help Turkey prevent the PKKaffiliated PYD making too many advances in Western Kurdistan (Syria).
Erdoğan’s government wants to soften its political crises and severe internal disputes through further economic development. Thus, if Turkey and its investment companies in the Kurdistan Region have proved successful in resolving the country’s political issues, and to silence national and political radicalism against Kurds in general, through economical and trading relations, they may want to do the same in Iran, too. Given that Iran has a population of 76 million and vast oil and gas reserves, there will be a great opportunity for foreign investors should it open up its economy--and Turkey will certainly be looking to be one of these.
Let us consider this information which an Iranian official has revealed: trade between Iran and Turkey reached $22 billion in 2012, but fell in 2013 to $20 billion. However, the number is expected to rise to $30 billion by 2015. Whilst Iran is Turkey’s third largest export market, the same source has said Turkey has exported about 20,000 types of products including gold and silver to Iran.
Erdoğan’s visit may well be a cause of concern to America, which will not want a close friend like Turkey moving so fast toward commercial openness with Iran, against which economic sanctions are still in place. At the same time, there is a risk of Turkey’s initiative leading to a negative openness, in so far as the balance of power tilts towards Iran, in which case all international steps towards a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis may come to nothing. For now, the Syrian regime can also oppress its opposition far more than it is doing, even as dozens of crimes against humanity are being committed in the name of striking out at terror. This may lead to Iran’s political role growing stronger, just as Turkey wants to strengthen its economic and commercial roles. We should bear in mind, too, that both countries are striving to take over America’s role and position in a new and rapidly changing Middle East.
The main fear is that Turkey and Iran may turn the clock back 500 years in the Middle East and divide the region once again between Turkey’s economic and Iran’s political domination.